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singing for memory

Weekly sessions for those living with dementia

older lady plays instrument in Singing for Memory dementia session at The Point in Doncaster

Our Singing for Memory group runs on Monday afternoons at The Point, home of darts. We use the power of song, friendship, tea and conversation to connect people with dementia and their carers with others. The group provides a regular, safe space for people to have fun, sing familiar songs and create new ones. Professional musicians facilitate the sessions; their expert approach is different to other dementia services because of their person-centred and flexible approach and sessions are designed to gently challenge participants.

Issues include the daily challenges of living with dementia, the effect of the condition on family members and carers and the stigma around the condition that ultimately leaves people feeling isolated and lonely. Participants tell us there is limited opportunity to engage in high quality cultural opportunities in Doncaster – especially when confidence and self-esteem is low.

Singing for Memory supports Doncaster residents with dementia and their family carers, living independently. Over 2,674 people are registered as living with dementia in Doncaster and it is estimated that a further 1,326 do not have a diagnosis. The majority still live at home.

Participants are those at early (mild) stage and middle (moderate) stage of dementia, those with Young Onset dementia (diagnosed between 30-64 years) and those with caring responsibility: family/friends. The group is also open to people with memory problems who are in the early stages of being seen by their GP. We also welcome those whose partners have passed away to continue attending as this can be a lifeline.

Two older men chat at a dementia session led by darts in Doncaster

The needs that current and potential participants identify are mainly around loneliness and isolation, loss of identity and lack of confidence: “My friends ran to the hills when my partner got his diagnosis of dementia”. Carers tell us that dementia can make it feel like they have ‘lost’ their partner even though they are physically still there. There is an additional need for those from BAME communities around understanding the condition itself. The stigma of having dementia, and the potential embarrassment caused by ‘unusual’ behaviour in public is a barrier to engaging in activity.

Loss of conversational skills is often an early marker of dementia, and language deterioration has been identified as the primary problem in coping with the disease. Music and singing is proven to help those with dementia to remember, and connect with the present. We use Makaton – a method of communication using signs and symbols – to benefit those at earlier stages of dementia, as they can learn along with family and use the signs as the condition worsens. This can reduce frustration caused by the inability to be understood.

A man and a woman using Makaton during a Singing for Memory dementia session at The Point in Doncaster

Our approach

All of our work is person-centred. Our approach is to respond directly to the individuals in the room so activity directly responds to their needs and interests. In this way, participants are co-designing the programme as we go. We don’t see dementia as a problem: we celebrate the creativity and life-experience that people bring.  

Our skilled musicians design sessions that capture the imagination and challenge participants in a gentle and appropriate manner. They are expert in drawing out people’s talents and empowering them to feel more confident and resilient. For example, when planning a session, a musician takes into account the fact that one member plays ukulele, that another loves Elvis Presley or that a gentleman came up with a comment that made everyone laugh, and will build these into activities. Building on individual personalities is what attracts people to each other and we know that the arts brings out who people really are – beyond the diagnosis.  This generates memories, makes people feel valued, helps people get to know each other and develops stronger connections. 


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